AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) — In their second postseason together, LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love might finally be hitting their stride as a group.
At the very least, Cleveland’s trio of stars looks awfully comfortable, and the Cavaliers are closing in on a first-round sweep.
James had 20 points and 13 rebounds, and Irving made a pair of big 3-pointers down the stretch to help the Cavs beat the Detroit Pistons 101-91 on Friday night. Cleveland now leads the series 3-0, with Game 4 coming up Sunday night.
Love scored 20 points of his own for the Cavs, and so far this feels like a far cry from last year’s playoffs, when injuries to Irving and Love forced James to carry Cleveland in its NBA Finals loss to Golden State.
“I think right now we’re in a great flow as far as us three,” James said. “When we’re on the floor we understand what we want individually and as a team. Guys are picking their spots.”
Irving scored 26 points for Cleveland, which overcame a gritty effort by the Pistons in Detroit’s first home playoff game since 2009. Andre Drummond scored 17 points for the Pistons, but Detroit fell behind toward the end of the third quarter, and a late rally came up short.
The Pistons have now lost 11 straight playoff games against Cleveland, and they’ve lost nine in a row overall in the postseason.
Down by nine in the fourth, Detroit went on an 8-0 run, forcing the Cavs to call a timeout. Irving responded with a 3-pointer, and J.R. Smith added one of his own to make it 95-90. Irving made it an eight-point game with a 3-pointer in the final minute.
Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy was exasperated by the fact that Cleveland outrebounded his team 46-32.
“Rebounding’s been one of our strengths all year. It’s been terrible in this series,” Van Gundy said.
Love had 12 rebounds and Tristan Thompson had 10, including eight at the offensive end. The Cavs also had three players score at least 20 points — the third time that’s happened in this series.
A raucous, towel-waving crowd tried to give Detroit a boost. Pistons fans booed James early and often, although the Cleveland star threw down a two-handed dunk on his team’s first offensive possession.
Detroit rookie Stanley Johnson, who seemed eager to get into a verbal battle with James and the Cavs after Game 2, scored nine points in a fearless first half Friday, but James had the final word before halftime, making a jumper with less than a second left in the second quarter to give Cleveland a 54-53 lead.
Cleveland methodically built a 79-73 lead after three quarters, and after a three-point play and a 3-pointer by James early in the fourth, the Cavs were up by nine. It was 87-86 after Detroit’s run, but the 3s by Irving and Smith helped Cleveland hold on.
With 1:34 remaining, the public address announcer at the Palace announced the results of a replay review with his popular “Deeeeeeeeeetroit Basketball” call, but it turned out he was mistaken and had to correct himself. Officials were giving the ball to the Cavs.
Detroit’s chances were all but extinguished when Irving sank a 3-pointer from the right corner with 43 seconds remaining, and James ran back to midcourt for a celebratory chest bump.
Cleveland went 20 of 38 from 3-point range in Game 2. The Cavs were 12 of 29 on Friday, and some of their biggest shots were from beyond the arc.
“With Drummond in the paint, he’s a great shot blocker,” Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said. “So when our guards get down in the paint, he’s in there waiting on them so they kick it out to the 3-point shot. We’ve been doing a great job the last two games of stepping in and knocking those shots down.”
FREE THROW WOES
Drummond went 1 of 6 on free throws, and Van Gundy took him out with 6:02 remaining to prevent Cleveland from intentionally fouling him. Even in the last 2 minutes — when those intentional off-the-ball fouls are illegal — Van Gundy kept Drummond on the bench.
“You can’t do anything with him. You can’t run to set a screen. You can’t do anything,” Van Gundy said. “You’ve just got opportunities to foul him. Now, would they have? I don’t know, but I gave him one possession. We’re behind. You can’t go down and play for zero points.”
Cavaliers: Mo Williams (sore left knee) did not play. ... The Cavs’ playoff winning streak over Detroit is tied for the second longest in league history. The Lakers beat Denver 11 consecutive times in the playoffs from 1985-2009, and they beat Seattle 12 straight from 1980-89.
Pistons: Reggie Bullock (left leg) missed the game. ... Detroit hasn’t won a playoff game since Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals in 2008 against Boston.
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